CAMBRIDGE — Back in 2006, the local chamber-opera company Intermezzo presented “Curlew River,” the first of Benjamin Britten’s three “Parables for Church Performance,” at the Jesuit Urban Center in Boston. This past weekend, in the centennial year of Britten’s birth, Intermezzo staged the third “Parable,” “The Prodigal Son,” at First Church, Congregational, helped by what it described as a “generous grant” from the Britten-Pears Foundation. The money was well spent.
Britten wrote the three “Parables” between 1964 and 1968. “Curlew River” is based on a Japanese noh play; the second “Parable,” “The Burning Fiery Furnace,” draws on the biblical Book of Daniel, and “The Prodigal Son” on the Gospel of Luke. In their style, all three meld elements of noh, the medieval English mystery play, and the English mummers’ play. Each begins and ends with a procession of monks singing plainchant, as if they were traveling players come to town to put on a show.